HOUSTON – The Houston Rockets thought their depth would be one of their strengths before the season began.
The reserves are now playing well enough to give the starters valuable rest during the lockout-compressed season.
Chase Budinger scored 19 points, Montreal’s Samuel Dalembert grabbed 14 rebounds and the Rockets beat the New York Knicks 97-84 on Saturday night for their ninth win in 10 games.
Backup forward Jordan Hill had 14 points and 11 rebounds, reserve guard Courtney Lee scored 14 points in place of the injured Kevin Martin, and the Rockets shot 49 per cent (38 of 77) to improve to 9-2 at home this season.
Houston’s reserves scored a season-high 61 points, a night after scoring a season-high 52 in a 103-76 victory over Washington.
“You need to play more guys, just because how short the season is, how quick games are coming up,” said Budinger, who came off the bench to score 21 in Friday night’s rout of Washington. “There are going to be nights where one player doesn’t play well, so someone else has to step up. I think our team is doing a good job.”
Martin sat out again with inflammation in his right heel, and starting point guard Kyle Lowry had an off night, going 1 for 6 from the floor.
Houston coach Kevin McHale turned to backup point guard Goran Dragic, who scored 16 points and delivered five assists in 27 minutes, though he also had six turnovers.
The longer the Rockets keep winning with their reserves, the better they think they’ll be later in the season, because their starters won’t be worn down.
“We can win more games, we can rotate more guys and be more fresh in the future,” Dragic said.
The Knicks, meanwhile, are desperately looking for solutions after losing for the ninth time in 10 games.
Houston blew open a close game in the third quarter as the Knicks’ offence sputtered again without leading scorer Carmelo Anthony.
Amare Stoudemire scored 23 points and Tyson Chandler added 14 for the Knicks. New York went 5 for 26 from three-point range a night after shooting an NBA season-high 43 times from beyond the arc in a loss to Miami.
“I think about this stretch right here,” Stoudemire said, “it’s something that you don’t want to get used to.”
New York failed to reach 90 points for the fifth time in seven games. The Knicks were playing their fourth game in five nights, but Stoudemire wasn’t using fatigue as an excuse.
“There are a lot of teams right now playing the same type of schedule,” he said, “and finding ways to win.”
The Knicks were heaving up threes from the start Saturday night, but missed their first three attempts. They led early, though, because the Rockets gave away five turnovers in the first nine minutes.
New York went 1 for 9 from three-point range in the opening quarter and still led 21-20. Dragic started the second quarter with Houston’s first 3-pointer to put the Rockets in front.
Budinger had 11 points in the second quarter, helping Houston build a 53-46 lead at the break. Dalembert’s free throw with 6:47 left in the third quarter put Houston ahead 62-52, marking its 13th consecutive game with a double-digit lead.
The Knicks pulled to within six before Houston finished the third quarter with a 12-2 burst fueled by four New York turnovers. Lee sank a three-pointer, then hit a free throw after a technical foul on Tyson Chandler and the Rockets led 76-60 going into the fourth.
“We have to figure out a way to comprehend and learn from our mistakes,” Stoudemire said. “Right now, we’re not doing that.”
New York coach Mike D’Antoni had Stoudemire on the floor with mostly backups early in the final quarter, and the Rockets safely preserved their lead with a lineup of mostly backups of their own.
Stoudemire was out for the final four minutes, falling two rebounds short of his fourth double-double in five games.
“Amare was really the only scorer we had on the floor,” D’Antoni said. “When he gets tired and comes off, we just can’t get quality shots.”
Notes: The Rockets have won 20 straight games when holding their opponents below 90 points. … The Rockets continued their longest run of games with a double-digit lead since 2008, when they held double-digit advantages in 20 straight games during a 22-game winning streak. … Dalembert blocked four shots. He has at least two blocks in six straight games, Houston’s longest streak since Yao Ming had multiple blocks in eight consecutive games in March 2009. … The Knicks are 1-7 against the West. … New York fell shy of 90 points for the third straight game.